How many of us have often exclaimed, or even mentally gone –
“My life can never work out smooth! I am such a loser! I am a good for nothing piece of sh*t!”
If that sounds familiar then welcome aboard. That was my script too and it took me decades to change that into –
“I am perfectly good enough and adequate. I can and do take charge of my life to turn it into a functional and fulfilling one.”
So if you’re struggling with similar feelings, here’s good news! You can change it. And here’s how to.
Last time I had posted about the need of Taking Responsibility and how that doesn’t equate to shifting all blame onto one’s own shoulders, but simply having a constructive response-ability to every situation. Yet most often we indulge in virulent self-judgment. If blaming others for everything painful in our lives is one extreme of the distorted spectrum, the other extreme is constantly blaming oneself for everything one goes through. Harsh, critical, constant mental self-flagellation and self-loathing. Interestingly, it is quite often blended with self-pity. Most, subconsciously, even relish this package. But having lived that way for almost three decades of my life, I can vouch that it is again a false strategy of an undisciplined mind to cope with life’s challenges. The mind falsely equates self-discipline with self-flagellation and self-punishment.
Self-Judgment Vs Self-Discipline
Discipline is a word we all are more inclined to hate than embrace. Judgment is something that we are more naturally inclined towards than a non-judgemental compassion. Towards ourselves or towards others. But there is a huge difference between accepting that the buck of our lives stops with us – and to constantly blame ourselves for not being able sort life out. Blaming and judging, whether others and/or ourselves, is again not taking responsibility.
We all have our unique struggles and limitations. It is true that whatever we face in life is a direct or indirect result of some choice we made at some point of time in life and we might now be feeling stuck with its consequences. Yet that doesn’t immediately imply –
“I am an idiot! I deserve to suffer! I hate myself!”
Human choices depend on a lot of factors – one’s worldview, abilities, skill sets, awareness, pain threshold, old habits and mental scripts and so on. What we choose each time goes through all these filters. Hence It is critical to understand that while our current problems are a result of our past choices, yet when we ‘chose’ it back in time (or even recently) we did so to the best of our then awareness, knowledge and skills sets. There is no need to beat ourselves up for having made a choice that now we realise was unhealthy or foolish. Precisely because self-judgment and loathing is a slyly self-perpetuating cycle.
The Healing Field of Self-Compassion
Just outside the trap of self-judgment lies the healing field of self-compassion. Treating one’s Self with empathy, understanding and loving compassion. It is exactly like good parenting. We see our child has messed up. But instead of pouncing on them with judgment and hatred, we try understanding why the child did what they did. Because the child knew no better! So we don’t yell, “Oh you piece of good for nothing! You deserve it!” Rather we deal with understanding and non-judgmental compassion. But wait. Then the next step is to ensure that the child is properly disciplined and empowered to avoid that pitfall the next time, isn’t it?
Until recent times, I too mostly swung between scathing blame-shifting on parents, family, friends, society and even God – And loathing myself with self-judgment to the point of self-harm. Later, through my CBT sessions, I was taught, painstakingly over the years, what my mental health professional calls Parenting the Self. Treating the Self with absolute non-judgment and empathy. Of course, like any parenting , the CRUCIAL OTHER SIDE of the coin is Disciplining the Self. Just as we don’t loathe our child for falling sick with roadside food but we also ensure they are disciplined enough to overcome the unhealthy food lures next time on. Likewise, our mind needs to be treated with both – empathy and non-judgment on one hand. Discipline and non-indulgence on the other hand.
No Self-Judgment Doesn’t Mean No Self-Discipline
Often, the subtler trap lies in stopping at empathy with the Self. “Mahn! I love and accept myself just the way I am!” – this sentence has become almost a new age pseudo-spiritual chant. But one needs to recognise that Compassion devoid of Discipline is effectually harmful Indulgence and hence No well-wishing compassion at all. Both in case of parenting a child and parenting one’s Self. It is just like saying I accept and empathise with my teenager doing drugs, and stopping at that, without taking any step to help the child overcome their addiction. That’s dangerous a self-delusion. In fact, it took the rebellious borderline in me to understand this wonderful truth – Disciplining in itself is an act of Compassion.
Like most people having an aversion to the word discipline, I too failed to discipline my mind for years. Being neither raised in an ideal parenting set up, nor being a parent myself, it took me long to realise this truth – self-discipline, like any act of parenting, is neither self-loathing and self-blaming nor a free hand to a self-indulgent mind – but a beautiful balance between an understanding self-compassion and a stern discipline to teach the Mind to say No to what’s dysfunctional and unhealthy.
I still struggle to strike the perfect balance every time. But each new day is a learning and practise opportunity. To love the Self with complete acceptance and then to discipline the Mind anew to choose what’s healthy. One goes with the other. One can’t be effective without the other. But when both are mastered over painstaking practise then the results are really surprising. And – it is going to be a long path of trial and error, failing and looping. So don’t start hating and judging yourself moment you feel you still haven’t got the balance perfected. Compassion. Discipline. Patience.
Take care, dear Mind.
© & Author : Nivedita Dey, 2016
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